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A Bruin Welcome for the President


By Jesy Odio '15

Published May 12, 2014 8:00 AM

Undergraduates studying the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012 get to meet the man himself.


Photo by Alex Solether.  

According to the syllabus for Sociology 19, “Hope, Change, and Fistbumps: Young Americans and the Obama Presidency,” the course explores the challenges, advancements and overall progress made during Barack Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012. But one item not mentioned was a May 7 field trip to LAX where all 18 students met President Obama as he stepped off Air Force One.

"Coming into the class I expected it to be a learning experience," says political science major Jazmin Samano. "But now I have an experience to remember for the rest of my life."

Obama shook hands with each student and jokingly asked if their professor, Kalpen Modi ’00, otherwise known as Kal Penn, was teaching them anything. Obama and Modi go way back to the 2008 presidential campaign, when Penn, the actor known for starring in the ‘Harold and Kumar’ comedy films and the TV drama “House,” decided to take a break from acting to join the campaign’s Arts Party Committee. Since then, Modi has juggled his acting career with serving as associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.


In addition to meeting Obama, Penn’s students also spoke briefly with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who asked about Modi’s upcoming TV show, Battle Creek, by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan.

It was Modi’s involvement with the White House and his passion for Obama’s presidency that prompted Stefan Timmermans, chair of UCLA’s sociology department, to invite him to teach a course for Fiat Lux, a small intimate freshman seminar program.

"The goal was to give our undergraduate students an opportunity to bring in a top-notch guest lecturer with experience in engaging young people in politics," Timmermans says. "Kal had an interest in developing some of his experiences at the White House in a more systematic way, and this topic dovetails greatly with the department's strength in political sociology."

In class, Modi has focused on topics such as the repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the DREAM Act, and the Affordable Care Act. Near the end of the quarter, the students will learn how to write a memo advising the president on a topic relevant to real-life issues affecting young Americans. But no doubt what they will remember most is shaking hands with the President.

This story is based on an article in the UCLA Newsroom. To view the original full-length article, visit



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